A blog for Catholic men that seeks to encourage virtue, the pursuit of holiness and the art of true masculinity.
The Forgotten Prayer of the Father
October 2, 2020
Tucked away in a seemingly boring part of the Bible, the Forgotten Prayer of 1 Chronicles 4:10 is an unexpected invitation for men to come home—to the family we have all desired, the Church and the Holy Trinity, and our true vocation as fathers. The so-called “Prayer of Jabez” is not the materialistic and shallow wish list it’s often made out to be. In fact, it is a prayer of intercession, a powerful way to pray for your wife and children, your parish, and God’s reign over the entire world.
The Forgotten Prayer is short, only one sentence with four parts, but for any father its message is powerful: You are not alone. You are heard. Your suffering is not meaningless. You are a father of a family—and you were made for God the Father, for his family:
Oh that you would bless me
And enlarge my border,
And that your hand would be with me,
And that you would keep me from harm (1 Chron. 4:10).
This is not just the private petition of a self-interested individual; this is a prayer for the universal Church, the prayer of Israel, the prayer of a father. It’s a prayer for anyone who wants to live a story that’s bigger than themselves. It is the Old Testament’s prayer of patriarchs, the quintessential father’s prayer. And it’s a prayer every man should have in his back pocket.
The vocation to fatherhood is a vocation to prayer
Men are to pray without ceasing. And our prayers can change the lives of our wife and children forever. Prayer can do more than money, strategy, or hard work. It’s a father’s first and greatest work. As a father, it’s my job to pray for my family.
That being said, prayers are not magic spells. It’s not a matter of just saying the right words and then suddenly our wife and children will be saved from all troubles and blessed with success. Just look at the story of Israel! Even so, what we pray for matters. How we pray matters. As men, our job is to pray that God would bless our wife and children, our parish and community. We are to pray that he would be glorified in our common life together, and that everything we do would bring him glory. But how do we do that? One powerful answer is what I call the Forgotten Prayer, the prayer of 1 Chronicles 4:10.
The Chonicler strategically places this prayer in a long genealogy to serve as the representative prayer of that genealogy—a heritage going all the way back through the patriarchs to Adam! And the Book of Chronicles was one of the main sources for the Gospel writers in telling the background story and genealogy of Jesus. As a kind of synopsis or paradigm of Israel’s prayer life, the Forgotten Prayer anticipates the Our Father and the entire prayer life of the Church. That means it’s a prayer for you and me today.
The Forgotten Prayer is a stake in the ground, a fence post. It helps a father see his family in light of the big picture. To pray this prayer is to claim this heart, this home, this woman, these kids, or this parish for Christ. It’s a father’s way of praying that God’s kingdom would be established in his home and spread out across the world out from there, “on earth as it is in heaven.”
In the Forgotten Prayer Course, I offer biblical yet practical advice that will revolutionize your prayer life by giving you a new vocabulary and a new vision for your life. 1 Chronicles 4:10 will help you claim God-inspired promises for your family. It is a bold prayer from the heart of the Church, sweeping everyone up into the life of the Trinity, and bringing glory to God.
If you have a vocation to fatherhood, especially, I want to invite you to join me as together we learn how to pray with power and purpose. To pray is to fight for milk and win. Even more, prayer means that when we fight for milk and fulfil all our responsibilities as fathers God will win. Prayer puts God the Father—the Dad of dads!—in the driver’s seat. Men, will you join me in restoring this forgotten prayer to its original integrity?
A Prayer of Blessing
Our world is crowded with bad ideas about what it means to be blessed. But what does the Bible say about it? What does it mean to be “blessed”? And how can we truly live blessed lives? I want to suggest to you that Jabez’s prayer shows us that when God changes your heart from looking inward to looking Godward, from selfishness to Kingdom generosity, every part of your life is changed—and opened up to abundant blessing. God made us to be happy, and the simple fact of the matter is that our greatest happiness is found in him.
Too often we tend to make a god out of whatever gives us the most comfort and pleasure: sex, power, romantic love, money, entertainment. Take a moment to think of all things you want. If God gave you everything you wanted, but didn’t give you himself, where would you be? You would be in Hell. But if God took everything away and gave you only himself, where would you be? You would be in Heaven. The best gift God can give you is the gift of himself. As Saint Teresa of Avila put it, “Only God is sufficient.”
In a sense, we should live for pleasure—and God is our greatest pleasure. This doesn’t mean we should be surprised when suffering comes our way, because (and I don’t say this lightly) even suffering is a cause for happiness—as long as it is united to the suffering of Christ.
For men wishing to live a life of blessedness and abundance, to join Jabez in his paternal prayer is to ask God for nothing less than more God! Saint Thérèse de Lisieux put it this way: “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.
To satisfy the desire of our hearts, God has to be the first thought, not an afterthought. Saint Augustine was right: our hearts are restless until they rest in God. God established the Church for his glory and our happiness. As the Body of Christ, the Church is the social continuation of the Incarnation, the sacrament of his presence on earth, the home where his heart is. And God is most glorified in his Church when his people are seeking their happiness and comfort in him.
In this light, to be “blessed” by God is to be given everything that you need to live in right relationship with God and his family, the Church. In a fallen world and in the fallen flesh of Adam, this inevitably involves suffering and adversity. But when nailed to the crucifix, even your pain can be a source of incalculable joy, insofar as it draws you closer to God.
At this point, someone might rightly point out that the Bible doesn’t actually tell us that Jabez was a father. And it’s true, the Chronicler doesn’t explicitly say if Jabez was a father. He also doesn’t say that he was a bachelor farmer, either. But the context and content of the prayer strongly suggest that this prayer is paradigmatic of Israel’s patriarchs, a family prayer. It is not lifted up as an example of a single man’s prayer, but as a father’s prayer.
In fact, any Jew hearing the request “bless me” would remember the first and supreme blessing of all Scripture—the blessing of children: “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Gen. 1:28). Sounds like Jabez’s prayer, doesn’t it? In Scripture, blessing is almost always linked with children, with family.
There’s so much more that could be said about children, about delighting in the Holy Trinity or loving and savoring God’s family, but for now I only bring it up to set the stage for this prayer of patriarchs, Jabez’s prayer. I want to suggest to you that to pray this prayer is to pray on behalf of your family, to intercede for them. Ultimately, it is to ask God for nothing less than himself. It’s to pray on behalf of your family for the expansion of his Kingdom, and that you can be a part of it. And it’s a prayer God always seems to answer. God longs for you and your family to live the life he created you to live—here on earth, and forever in eternity.
What if Jabez is not special because of what he prayed for but to whom he prayed? Jabez was not praying to any old deity. He was praying to “the God of Israel” (Chron. 4:10). Perhaps the Chronicler singled Jabez out because he resisted the temptation to worship other gods. He made his vows to the God of Israel. But who is “Israel”?
As we unpack in the Forgotten Prayer Course (which is available to all the members of the Fight for Milk apostolate) those who called themselves the people of Israel (Ex. 1:8), or the tribes of Israel (Gen. 49:16, 28), the Israelites (Gen. 32:32), or simply Israel (Gen. 34:7), traced back to the twelve sons of Jacob, the man God re-named Israel, “one who strives with God.” This was the family with whom God entered into a covenant relationship for the fulfillment of his plan of salvation for the whole world. The Israelites were chosen to become a “priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). They were God’s “own possession” (Ps. 135:4; cf. Ex. 19:5; Deut. 32:8-10).
The home is the domestic church. It is tiny snapshot of God’s family, the Church. As fathers, you and I can get excited about “Israel” because, as God’s family, Israel signals the approach of the Church, the “Israel of God” (1 Cor. 10:18; Gal. 6:16). And from the beginning, Israel demanded God’s blessing; even more, it is through Israel that God blesses the world.
“Oh that you would bless me!” cries Jabez. His prayer is the prayer of all Israel, the descendants of Jacob. “Bless me!” cries Jacob, just before he was named “Israel.” As we’ll see, Jabez’s name is a play on the Hebrew word for “pain” (1 Chron. 4:9). This is fitting because the pain associated with Jabez recalls the naming of Israel in suffering:
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with man and have overcome.”
Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?”
Then he blessed him there. (Genesis 32:24-29)
This remarkable story touches as the heart of Israel’s identity as a people. The unexpected and sudden appearance of an opponent wrestling in the dark with Jacob captures something of the event itself. By the end of the contest, Jacob is convinced the man is God himself, which is not improbable since God had previously come to Abraham in human form (18:1-15). The story contains a wordplay in Hebrew: God wrestles (ye’abeq) with Jacob (ya‘aqob) by the Jabbok (yabboq). Jacob is forever changed by this extraordinary meeting. His injury highlights not only God’s strength but Jacob’s determination to be blessed. The name comes with pain. As his hip is out of joint, Jacob is named Israel, which can mean “he strives with God” or “God strives.”
Interestingly enough, the name “Jabez” means born in pain: “His mother named him Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain’” (1 Chron. 4:9).
So Jabez, born in pain, calls on “the God of Israel” (Chron. 4:10). The Chronicler enhances Israel’s family tree with the prayer of a father, the prayer of Jacob and his descendants: “Bless me!” This is not the private prayer of a man on Wall Street, “Lord, increase the value of my investment portfolios.” This is the prayer of suffering Israel! And the story of Israel reminds us that blessing is ultimately found in membership in the family of God.
Men, pay attention: Blessings are what God is all about. At creation, God blessed all living things and gave them “the first Great Commission” to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:22, 28; 2:3; 5:2). In spite of human sin, God renewed the covenant with Noah and with all living things after the Flood, repeating the commandment to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 9:1). We were made for fruitful relationship with God and one another. This is why God’s blessings are intimately connected family, especially God’s covenant with Israel.
It started small, but it was meant to get big. In his covenant with Abraham, God promised that through his family tree the whole world would be blessed (Gen. 12:2-3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:3-4; 28:14).As a chosen people, Israel is a family elected to fulfill God’s plan for everyone, even you and me. God made a promise to Abraham that he would have innumerable descendants (Gen. 12:1-3; Gen. 25:19-23), and this family tree would be a source of blessing for the whole world (Gen 12:3; 22:18). This promise would come to fruition in the “son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1), Jesus Christ, in whom God’s salvation would open to Jews and Gentiles alike (Matt. 8:11-12; Luke 13:28-29). The borders of the Promised Land would spread out over the whole world!
The Forgotten Prayer—the prayer that synthesizes the prayer of all Israel—is relevant to us even today. As the New Israel, this is our prayer, the prayer of the Church. And here’s why. The Church, the “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16), is heir to the covenant promises made by God. We are the heirs of God’s blessing—blessed to be a blessing.
This is why as fathers, especially, to pray this prayer is to put a stake in the ground. It’s to say, in so many words, “This home is God’s home.” It’s to seek not only abundance and protection, but to have that blessings spread out from your home to the whole world.
In its essence, this fatherly prayer is the prayer of a man who hungers for more God. Whatever else it may be, it is at bottom a plea for God to give you the best gift he has, which is the gift of himself. Why should you settle for anything less? When Saint Thomas Aquinas finished his masterpiece, Christ asked him, “What can I give you?” And Saint Thomas replied, “Yourself, Lord.”
From the beginning, God’s blessings have had to do with fruitfulness, with family. We were made for fruitful relationship with God and each other. To be blessed is to be faithful to the covenant of God, to be true to his family, even in the face of suffering. Though our hip is pulled out of joint from the struggle, we do not stop striving with God. As long as the Church longs for union with the Holy Trinity, she will not stop crying out with Jacob, “Bless me!”
However strange it might appear at first, I want retrieve Jabez’s prayer, this father’s prayer, from the realm of slogans and sound bites and in some sense restore it to its intended good purpose. I want to be vigilant, to be a good steward of this passage of sacred Scripture. Will you join me in exploring the strange and often misunderstood “Forgotten Prayer”?
Tyler Blanski is a Catholic father, the author of An Immovable Feast, and the founder of the Fight for Milk apostolate. He lives in Minnesota with his wife and three children. Learn more at www.fightformilk.com
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